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3 Big Lies At the Heart of Republican Attacks On the Post Office

House Republicans are aiming to dismantle the postal service, but their plans hinge on a few tall tales they've sold the American public.

In nine months in office, the new Republican House majority has amply proven the emptiness of its early promises: to create jobs, run government more like a business and respect small-town America. But there’s no better object lesson in Republicans’ real priorities than their bid to end the Postal Service as we know it.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) transports hundreds of billions of pieces of mail a year to addresses everywhere in the United States. It does so with no government subsidies – if you don’t use the postal service, you don’t pay for it. Now, like the US economy, the USPS faces a crisis brought on by Republican policies, which Republicans insist only more right-wing policies can solve. USPS has informed Congress that it can’t pay $5.5 billion due to a federal retiree health fund September 30, raising prospects of default. Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, are demanding layoffs and service cuts. Here’s how the Republican plan – burning the Postal Service to save it – contradicts the stories Republicans tell us about themselves.

1. Republicans are Demanding More Unemployment

Every month brings a new round of Republican press releases announcing that the latest anemic job growth shows the failure of Obama’s extreme liberalism – even as the numbers are worsened by the ongoing decline in public sector employment. Republicans are ordering up more job-killing, pushing legislation (with the postmaster’s support) that would shred the no-layoff language in the four unions’ contracts and allow for 100,000 pink slips (on top of tens of thousands set to retire and not be replaced). At a hearing last year, Issa told the postmaster that USPS has “more or less a third more people than you need” on payroll.

Those layoffs would be particularly damaging for the groups that disproportionately get hired at the post office: African Americans and military veterans. The Postal Service has a multi-decade policy of preferential hiring for veterans. While USPS has been quick to say such preferences would insulate veterans from layoffs, unions retort that if entire post offices are closed, everyone who works there loses their jobs. “If you lay off 100,000 individuals, at least 25 to 30,000 will be veterans,” says American Postal Workers Union (APWU) president Cliff Guffey.

North Carolina A & T State University professor Philip Rubio points out that USPS is “at the hub of a 1.3 trillion dollar mail industry,” which increases the damage to the overall economy if mail service is limited or compromised.

So far the vocal House Republicans have been adamant about seeing USPS shrink and its workers’ protections shredded. Unions and USPS advocates have suggested a range of reforms to address the budget challenge: allowing USPS to mail alcohol; expanding the range of government functions post offices can perform; letting the cost of some forms of mail rise faster than inflation; removing potentially illegal business discounts. But the largest, and simplest, would be to undo an unfair mandate a Republican Congress placed on the Post Office in 2006. 

2. Republicans Are Making Government Run Less Like a Business

Republicans love to contrast the supposedly fair and efficient ways of the private sector with the allegedly bloated, hapless ways of government. That claim’s dubious merits aside (just compare Medicare and private health insurance), it’s not the advice they’ve applied to USPS.

Instead, in their last month in the majority in 2006, House and Senate Republicans passed a “postal reform” law requiring USPS, over a decade, to pre-fund its health benefits for the next 75 years.

The Republican-imposed pre-funding requirement, which postal unions never asked for, has proven to be less a booster shot than a kiss of death. No health plan, public or private, operates under such an extreme mandate – and no government or business program is required to be fully funded 75 years ahead of time in order to be considered solvent. Republican demands to lay off 100,000 workers now so that pensions are funded for 75 years is just as cruel a joke as insisting on throwing millions of Americans off of Social Security now to improve its financial outlook for 2086.

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